Tag Archives: North Korea

The Asia scrum


Rather suddenly there is a welter of developments turning Asia’s dozen-odd countries into a cat’s cradle of conflicting interests – some new — that could lead to war.

Central, of course, is “a rising” China. The Chinese, themselves, have given up the phrase “a peaceful rising”. That was a promise that the new boy on the block would not repeat a united Germany’s late arrival as a strong player in Europe, setting off two world wars. Now almost daily aggressive rhetoric in official Chinese media is matched by extravagant territorial claims against its neighbors in northeast and southeast Asia coupled with a rapid naval buildup. Infringement of the cease fire lines in the Himalayas accompanies temporary military thrusts against Indian forces.

China’s only ally in the region, North Korea – dependent on Beijing aid for its very existence – has turned even more enigmatic. A highly publicized – unusual in such frequent eruptions – purging of its No. 2 leader is inexplicable even to the experts. Its tightly controlled media showed Jang Song Thaek being yanked off to prison. Then the uncle by marriage to the 31-year-old Kim Job-Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, was summarily executed.

One side effect has been both official media in China and North Korea accusing each other of perfidy; Jang was close to Chinese official and business interests. Yet there is no sign that they are not still wedded in their opposition to Japan and the U.S. These events have written a death notice for Washington’s continuing hope that Beijing could and would intervene to halt North Korea’s expanding weapons of mass destruction program. And the Obama Administration, like its predecessors has no answer to the conundrum of the continuing Pyongyang blackmail for additional aid as an incentive to halt its weapons program.

On the other side of the East [or Japan] Sea, most of which Beijing now claims as a restricted area, Japan’s extremely popular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defiantly defended Tokyo’s longstanding claim to sovereignty of disputed rocks between its Islands and the Mainland. His attempt to restore Japan’s economy, dawdling for a decade, has been accompanied by a campaign to regain a sense of national purpose. His strategy includes breaking through the virtual monopoly of the leftwing mainstream media not excluding the government radio and the Communist Nikyoso teachers union. Visiting Japan’s shrine to its fallen war dead was part and parcel of that cultural offensive. But because of the enshrinement there of World War II war criminals, it was looked on askance [and for propaganda] by Beijing and South Korea.

Obvious self-interest is being flaunted for political advantage: Beijing threatens to impose economic strictures on Tokyo. Seoul has refused needed Japanese ammunition for its UN Peacekeeping Force under attack in South Sudan. In a period of rapidly declining GDP and attempts at reform, Beijing can ill afford to abandon its heavy reliance on Japan for China assembly for third Japanese markets. Furthermore, Beijing has always looked to Tokyo not only for investment but for technological and management know-how, reflected in Japan being China’s No. 1 supplier in their $334 billion trade [2012]. Seoul’s collaboration with Japan, including such recent joint naval exercises, is essential for any effective counter to China’s power sponsored by the U.S. in Asia.

Abe, anticipating that Beijing despite all the talk of reform will not be able to boost its domestic consumption, long the holy grail of Japanese and Western business, is encouraging Japanese business to look elsewhere. Already Japanese direct investment into China plunged by nearly 37% in the first nine months of 2013, to only $6.5 billion, in part because of the outlook for Chinese markets. Alternatively Japanese investment in Southeast Asia’s four major economies ­— Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines —­ surged by over 120% to almost $7.9 billion.

Tokyo is moving quickly to exploit the new opening in Burma through its traditional special relationship there, Not least it cultivates opposition leader Suu Kyi, whose father, one of the martyred leaders of the independence struggle, was a Japanese protégé. Tokyo has written off more than $5 billion in debt for the reforming generals, and offered new infrastructure loans. Completing the circle, Tokyo has just announced $3 billion for Burma’s long-suffering minorities in off and revolt against the central government since independence.

Japan’s attempt to move away from China toward South Asia has its geopolitical aspects as well: a recent joint naval exercise with Indian forces off that country’s coast, a first, backs up its attempt to encourage an export led investment in the other Asian giant. It is part of a growing Japanese military, integration with its U.S. ally, and projection of its power and prestige overseas.

Radical shifts are taking place elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s feud between an urban Sino-Thai Establishment – including avid supporters of the King and Queen – and rural voters is escalating. Rioting with upcoming elections – which the opposition threatens to boycott – have already dampened continued rapid expansion of tourism which accounts for over 7% of Thailand’s economy. And it could threaten foreign investment which has made region’s leading automobile industry a cog in the growing worldwide car assembly network.

Eighty-six-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is ill and apparently unable, especially given his closest followers’ involvement, to make his usual intervention to calm political waters. And the Thai military, which many hoped had been ruled out of a new democratic, booming society, now have hinted they will lapse back into their old coup habit as they did in 2008 if street violence continues. Meanwhile, no one is paying much attention to a growing insurgency in Thailand’s Malay provinces on its southern border. That augurs badly for the region with Malaysia’s own increasingly Islamicist Malays moving toward conflict with its Chinese and Indian minorities, and more radical politicians arising in the more isolated states on Thailand’s border.

Indonesia, largely ignored despite its fourth largest population in the world nearing 250 million – almost a third under 14 — has temporarily staved off a balance of payments crisis. But its meager 3.6% increase in gross national product in 2013 is not what is required for one of the world’s most resource endowed countries with a generally docile and hardworking population. Highly dependent on a few mineral and agricultural specialty exports, Indonesia has been hard hit by the downturn in the world commodity prices. Despite large oil and gas potential, one of the founders of the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries [OPEC] became a net importer in 2009. Corruption, protectionism and fluctuating economic and fiscal policies have discouraged foreign investment and technological transfer. Despite conventional wisdom that Islam in Indonesia is moderate and catholic, incorporating large elements of its pagan and Hindu past, the world’s largest Muslim nation has always had a virulent jihadist movement. Indonesian authorities have been less than prescient in cracking down on it. In a deteriorating economy, it could become a major factor in the worldwide Islamicist terrorist network.

It was into this rapidly moving miasma that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton just two years ago announced the Obama Administration’s “pivot”, a turn from concentration on the Middle East to focus on Asia. But to continue Clinton’s metaphor, a pivot is a “central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates”. It could well be that in the world of diplomacy – and geopolitical strategy — one does not reveal the fulcrum. The U.S. has every reason to hope and even pretend that the growing aggressive rhetoric and behavior of Communist China is not the central issue in Asia for the foreseeable future. But to ignore that threat publicly is not to make it central to the strategy shift which was so loudly proclaimed.

Yet, particularly in its relations with Japan, since 1950 the keystone of American strategy in Asia, the Obama Administration appears not to have a China policy beyond associating itself rhetorically with China’s neighbors resisting Beijing’s encroachment. It may be just as well that U.S.-Japanese military integration under an expanded Mutual Defense Treaty is moving rapidly ahead on autopilot. For despite Tokyo’s continued public espousal of close relations, the coolness between Abe’s Tokyo and Obama’s Washington are an open secret. The strong – by the exotic standards of formal diplomatese – of Washington denunciation of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine [“disappointing”] — was a shock in Tokyo despite an earlier warning. Washington’s refusal to take a direct hand in smoothing relations between its two most important bilateral allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, has been …disappointing in Tokyo and elsewhere. That is particularly true since U.S.diplomats [and retired Foreign Service Officers] and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have publicly espoused mediation between Japan and China.

The Washington-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious attempt to create a vast new common market including 40% of U.S. trade, all North America and some hangers-on, is stagnating, in part because of inattention from the Administration’s leaders. And it is no secret that excluding China from the TPP – even if there were not substantial justification given its unfair trading practices – is presumably a part of the pivot.

But shaking off the Middle East, even with repeated attempts at “leading from behind”, is certainly not conclusive. This weekend’s crisis in Iraq and Washington’s promise to intervene short of boots on the ground shows how hard it will be to disentangle the U.S. from primary concentration on the area. Sec. of State John Kerry’s persistent – if unrealistic – devotion of enormous time and energy toward a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations, too, points in another direction

The U.S. President is scheduled for a swing through Asia in April. It remains to be seen whether the Administration will publicly try to tidy up its “pivot’ with new initiatives.

.Until then the “pivot” is flapping in the growing East winds of change.

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The Obama Administration dissolves further, now into mysteries


With its attempt to tame the Tehran mullahs, the Obama Administration now adds mystery to its already established credentials for obfuscation and incompetence.

  • Obfuscation. Pres. Barrack Ohama’s special friend and adviser, Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, apparently, has been secretly creeping around the Persian Gulf for a year holding “unofficial” talks with the Persians, blindsiding its regional allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, not so secretly, the Obama Administration has reinforced its entreaties to the mullahs by partially defanging the sanctions. As a token of Foggy Bottom’s love and devotion to successful Geneva negotiations at any price [i.e., Laos, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.], the Treasury has not been going after new sanctions violations or violators.
  • Incompetence But former housing [and slumlord] expert Jarrett, who apparently didn’t tell Secretary of State John Kerry how successful she thought she was, invited his nibs to parachute in to sign the give-away on the dotted line in Geneva in mid-November. But somehow those well known negotiating tactics Ms. Jarrett learned at the feet of the Mayors Daley fell apart. Kerry found himself holding a signing pen dipped in French béchamel instead of the usual invisible ink. Paris, bedeviled with a failing economy and calling up “gloire” as once “protectors” of the Syrians and Lebanese, said no. France’s role was as a full-fledged member of the UN Security Council plus Germany/EU’s negotiating team. But never mind, Kerry – who knows real humiliation when he sees it, having run to the Paris Vietnamese Communists in between Congressional hearings where he lobbied against American soldiers in Vietnam — returned for a second try.

Success in this “successful negotiations came this time with the Obama Administration’s fairly simple Iran line: Americans are tired of Mideast wars, costly in men and treasure. As even wartime leader Winston Churchill put it, “To jawjaw is always better than to war-war.” The Tehran mullahs have a “reform government” trying to mitigate US, EC and UN sanctions which, finally, after a decade are beginning to bite. The economy is near runaway inflation – not least because of throwing more than $150 billion on building a nuclear weapon, vast sums [to the North Koreans and Chinese] for missiles technology [including ICBMs that could eventually hit the U.S.], and supporting overseas terrorism. Tehran is now ready for a bargain after almost half a century of antagonism toward the world’s only superpower.

Of course, all these arguments have, to say the least, devastating counters: The so-called reform government has executed 190 political prisoners since it came in power in June. One of the most reactionary governments the world has ever known not only represses its own citizenry but spends billions on overseas subversion and terrorism – from Damascus to Buenos Aires. Tehran continues to be the main support – not only with funds and weapons but cadre of its Iranian Revolutionary Guard – for the Assad regime in Syria which has murdered some 200,000 of its own citizens. Iranian Pres. Hassan Roubani once bragged earlier negotiations which he headed permitted the mullahs to advance its nuclear program. Tehran supports not only its Shia Arab cousins with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, in the eastern Saudi Arabian oilfields, and troubled Bahrain with a Sunni sheikh but a Shia majority. The mullahs even cross the line to try to create another Hezbollah doing its dirty work around the world with the ultra-Sunni Hamas in Gaza, now at loggerheads with its former sponsor, Egypt. Cairo has its hands full with a full-fledged insurgency based on Iran’s gunrunners to Hamas in the Sinai Peninsular

That is why no amount of spinning by Obama or Kerry can possibly disguise this great gamble.

There are other geopolitical implications to a six months “deal”:

  • It will have the critical if indirect effect of confirming to all and sundry in the volatile region that America is withdrawing its support from its Mideast allies and, indeed, in effect enlarging the vacuum of power with which Obama has unleashed all the old regional conflicts.
  • The very negotiations themselves with the power structure of the West have come to the rescue of the failing prestige of a crippled Tehran regime, presenting itself as David against Goliath. It builds on the imperial designs – which preceded this regime as they did the former Shah’s – of an ancient civilization to dominate the region.
  • It has further alienated the U.S.’ traditional allies in the area – ironically uniting two of its most bitter enemies, the Israelis and the Saudis in their opposition, fear and anger over moves to accommodate Iran. They are joined by all the governments in the Gulf and Egypt’s military – always clutching at its traditional role as center of the Sunni world and now at odds with Washington.
  • The technical details of the agreement – which are likely to reveal new potholes once they are completely exposed – are onerous for an alliance once united in opposition to the mullahs acquiring a nuclear weapon. They inevitably will permanently weaken the sanctions regime abroad, so painfully arrived at. The agreement only slows enrichment of uranium. It does not provide foreign destruction of Iran’s stockpiled highly enriched uranium, the raw material for a bomb. It fuzzes the whole concept of whether Tehran has the right to enrich under pledged under the non-proliferation treaty not to develop a bomb.

Will the enforcers really know what is happening? For 17 years, the mullahs were able to disguise their nuclear program from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency — most recently under a compliant chairman, the now fugitive Mohamed El Baradei. [He is running from the Cairo military because of his collaboration with its former Brotherhood regime.]

In fact, news of the race for the bomb only reached the West through the Khalq, the leftwing of the coalition which overthrew of the Shah but who lost out to the mullahs. [The Obama Administration has reneged on Washington’s promise, despite their once being listed as terrorists for their implication in American deaths, to protect them from the new Shia-dominate Iraqian regime where they were once refugee allies of Saddam Hussein against the mullahs.]

Even were the mullahs to live up to the agreement, what would prevent them from simply refusing to negotiate – as is Washington’s strategy – into a new protocol to end their bomb efforts?

Worst of all, the relaxation of sanctions will save the regime’s neck from being rung by an increasingly hostile and deprived population. The sanctions began to bite only after their invocation against third parties. Unfortunately, not only the Russians and the Chinese, but our allies in Europe are salivating over the possibility in these straitened times for new sales to a near bankrupt regime. Tehran will get its hands on some $10 billion in additional oil sales.

Secret Indeed, it is no secret to any who knows the region and the Obama Administration that its strategies and policies from its inception has veered toward a traditional “Arabist” view. That group of scholars and their fellow travelers in the State Department and CIA insist, as do their British confreres, the source of all the Mideast problems is the Israel-Arab confrontation and a “solution” to it would go a long way to pacify the region.

Couple that with manifest hostility to Israel in Obama’s insistence that the 1948 armistice lines be the basis for Israel-Palestinian negotiations. [Prime Minister Netanyahu bumptiously on camera gave him a history lesson, pointing out that such lines which imperiled his country’s very existence. were not acceptable]

Early on Obama condemned to failure recommenced Israel-Palestine negotiations by insisting that Jewish “settlements” in the West Bank and [formerly in] Gaza was the first obstacle to peace. They had never had the highest priority in earlier failed negotiations. [When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza including forcing out Jewish settlers, his reward has been the continual missiles barrage on southern Israel.] There are, after all, 1.5 million, mostly Muslim, Arabs, in Israel within the so-called Green Line of the 1948 armistice, so the presence of Jews living in the original Biblical lands of the Hebrews in any new Palestinian state would only be reciprocal.

Despite the strong Israeli lobby in the Congress which has staid Obama’s hand, he has engaged in shin kicks against Jerusalem, e.g., leaking word the Israelis were the authors of the May 2013 strike inside Syria against arms enroute to Hezbollah. Because neither wants a prolonged confrontation, both the Israelis and Assad have publicly refused to acknowledge this – and at least two previous raids. Neither wants to face his public with publicity for an action which would require retaliation or at least explanation, hardly a secret to Foggy Bottom and the President’s team.

It is certainly no secret the President, before he reached the office, had close associations with Arab and Muslim activists including a close friendship with a former spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization now a Columbia University professor. The toleration of the increasing authoritarism of Egypt’s former Morsi presidency which led to a popularly supported military overthrow was a symptom of wider sympathies. John O. Brennan, CIA director, has made repeated controversial public statements on Muslim issues; for example, explaining jihad as only a search for a Muslim soul rather than the Islamic battlecry for 1300 years, or that the Muslim Brotherhood, the fountainhead of modern Islamicist terrorism, was in transition to more moderate doctrines, etc., etc.

But this is a Tehran regime, after all, which almost daily advocates the destruction of Israel and blasts gutter level anti-Semitism. There is little wonder, therefore, that any Obama Administration movement toward an accomodation with Iran is seen as endorsing the end of Israel’s position as holding the monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region. Now, there is considerable danger a nuclear arms race will begin with the Arab states and Turkey.

So, again to the secret: why, then has the Administration bent such effort to turn its back on its Sunni friends and offer the Iranians a path toward dominance in the region? Is it any wonder that the Saudis are outraged and have uncustomary expressed their dissatisfaction publicly to Obama’s policies?

Even the most optimistic of Obama’s advisers could not have believed, even when negotiations began a year ago, that they would have had an impact on his sagging polls. Certainly, now they will be no more than a 48-hour distraction from the collapse of Obamacare with the U.S. public’s notorious obliviousness to foreign policy issues until they are in full crisis.

About the only answer seems to be that this is another aspect of “leading from behind”, which the ideologues and geopoliticians in the Administration think by enhancing Iran’s role in the region will present a balance they can manipulate.

If so, a little history is in order: for almost two generations after World War II Washington strategists through several administrations thought something like that was plausible, with its tacit alliance with the Shah, the Israelis and Turkey against Egypt’s Col. Gamel Nasser’s Arab nationalism. The region’s infernal tribal conflicts and the Shah’s vainglorious dreams coupled with Pres. Jimmy Carter’s acquiescence to subversion of his throne brought that strategy to an abrupt end.

The current attempt for a modus operandi with one of the history’s most reactionary regimes to facilitate its regional hegemony is not likely to fare better.

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How do you say “schmooze” in Chinese?


There was less than met the eye at the two-day summit of China’s Xi  and Pres. Barack Obama.Neither party was in a position to tackle the growing list plaguing the relationship between the superpower and the superpower-wannabe. That might or might not have been a product of their particular personal abilities – and the much too often media true- romance about relations among major world figures. It is a question better left to future historians.

But a two-day schmooze session was about all the leaders of two mighty world powers could hope for. Given their miserable overflowing in-boxes back at homeoffice, it was to be welcomed by both leaders.

Pres. Barack Obama’s administration has turned premature lame duck – even before midterm Congressional elections next year. They hold, at least for the moment, little promise for his Democrats to either retake the House where the purse strings abide but even threaten the fragile Democratic leftwing-nonentity Senate alliance.

Obama came to Sunnylands –  how appropriate for a supposedly serious geopolitical conclave vacuous to its core  – bloodstained from Washington.scandals still metastasizing Try as he has, Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to take the spotlight with his talk of a somewhat improved economy and a handful of endorsements for social issues for his farleft base. Instead, there is the Republican Greek chorus drumbeat exploitation a growing spectacle of incompetence, petty corruption and failed ideologically-driven failed “comprehensive” solutions. Obama’s directed feints at infinitely complicated social, political and economic problems requiring petty politics maneuvering has never had White House vigor.

Pres. Xi Jinping, although superficially in better shape, also was vacationing from domestic problems that not only threaten his administration, but according to many knowledgeable observers, the Communist Party’s regime itself. Such warnings have come even from CPC leaders public statements. Xi’s answer to multitudinous crises bearing down on him in his first months in office is ever more slogans. A little learning is a dangerous thing, as they say, and Xi’s short American sojourns have apparently given him a heady notion of “soft power”. He played the role of Charming Old Uncle leading up to his elevation — assisted by his sing-along wife, purportedly a nationally known chanteuse if in military uniform.

But even the best imitation of American PR cannot camouflage a flagging economy with growth falling far below the formerly accepted minimum for stability, a pending regional and local debt-credit crisis, and an overall economy increasingly victim as “the world’s factory” of general world economic malaise, not excluding the EU. Despite repeated assertions of policy changes, Beijing has failed to get off the top-down unlimited expansion of capital plant jeopardizing what must in time become a shift to a  more consumer oriented economy if it is to prosper.

For all the talk of lessons learned from an entirely illogical historical analogy of China to Germany and Berlin’s aggressions in the 20th century as a latecomer to the table of the Westphalian nation-state, there isn’t much evidence Beijing has learned whatever “lesson” there was to be had. All the while touting peace and stability, China has laid fantastic claims to southern ocean resources never claimed before except with a few dots on a map, initiated a border incident to the century-old Himalayan frontier map dispute with India on the eve of their vice president’s visit, challenged a new more assertive Japanese government over islands for whose claim the Chinese can muster little authority, and been unwilling or unable to rein in chauvinistic and even threatening talk by mid-level military. Neighbors like the Southeast Asians, while always intimidated by their huge northern goliath when it is ascendant, are furious, flirt with whatever surcease Obama offers with his so-called “pivot” to East Asia, and try to get their ducks together for a united front to Beijing. [Meanwhile, they are lapping up the benefits of a new China economy next door.] Soft power, indeed!

Nor will Obama’s new foreign policy team likely have answers for any of the outstanding issues which Beijing’s policies or lack thereof present the U.S. Navy, the traditional peacekeeper in the Western Pacific. All are leaders from behind, American exceptionalism deniers, and UN-firsters who like their boss mask all this with macho pronouncements on drone warfare and guard intelligence data mining. SecState John  Kerry apparently blithely plans to outdo Hillary Clinton in accumulating mileague in some sort of timewarp in which he thinks he is continuing the old Mideast shuttle diplomacy in the midst of a total breakdown of the 1920s Anglo-French biorder arrangments. Susan Rice, with some of the sharpest elbows in Obama’s inner circle, is now supposed to be the great mediator of conflicting bureaucracies as National Security Adviser. Many will see her appointment, finally, as conclusive evidence it is time to make that NSA, too, subject to Congressional advice and consent, like every other cabinet post. For her very appointment was a poke in the eye to the Republicans – if not some of the conservative Democratic senators – given her still unexplained role as spokesman for the Administration in the Benghazi affair. The President, himself, had said she knew nothing and had nothing to do with it. The new ambassador-designate  to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is noted for her shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements on everything from how the UN should organize a military operation to “free” the Palestinians from the Israelis to hints Washington intervene in the current Syrian shambles. She is consistent in believing the highest US foreign policy priority is averting human rights catastrophes, whenever, wherever, however. In the not so far background is Brennan of Arabia as head of CIA, apparently the main influence on Obama’s serendipitous theories about Islam and Muslims – at least before the Arab Spring ripped open the real Mideast underbelly.

There is, of course, the mysterious disappearing act of Tom Donilon, outgoing NSA, as one of the President’s intimates and supposedly author of “the pivot”. Without much Asia background he was the China hand who went to Beijing to set up the meeting’s agenda such as it was. Civilian life is not, in the end, one would assume, going to protect him from Congressional inquisitors – if they ever get back to it – asking his role in the Benghazi “stand down” that refused aid to the beleaguered murdered victims in Libya

None of the outstanding issues between Washington and Beijing will get anything but rhetoric for a while: Former chief of staff and now Treasury Sec. Jack Lew has reaffirmed that Chinese manipulation of their currency is still as big an issue as ever despite its small appreciation in recent months as Fed Chairman Ben Bernandke continues to roll the dollar printing presses. But Treasury will not formally invoke the sanctions required if Beijing were to be formally named. The private sector, fortunately, has waked up to what continued, persistent and defiant cyberwarfare by the Chinese is doing to the already shredded concepts of intellectual property which Beijing ignores and, of course, eroding our vast but dwindling technological military lead.

Washington keeps lighting candles and praying Beijing will do something to restrain the North Koreans building weapons of mass destruction. But despite warm noises from various official and media sympathizers, in fact, what Beijing is doing is turning all its efforts to harnessing the North Korean economy such as it is but with its valuable direct access to the Pacific. Beijing obviously is anticipating that day when the starving, bluffing Pyongyang regime finally implodes and the remnants slide into the lap of South Korea, an American ally.

So, another year, another summit – although actually we are going to have at least two more this year. One has to have sympathy for poor old grand sumiteer Henry Kissinger, running around China before the big affair. The ageing Henry was only able to get the BBC to listen to his views of what, where and how relations ought to be arranged between the two powers. After all, Kissinger, whatever his exaggerations of his role, did live in the world of the giants now taken over by pigmies in pseudosumitry. No wonder he can’t get his foot in the door.

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Famine season in North Korea


The probability of another government-induced and natural disaster famine in North Korea that took as many as two million or more lives in in a population of only about 20 million in the early 90s is now being predicted by the few observers permitted in the gulag country by the Pyongyang regime.  Former Pres. Jimmy Carter who proves that longevity may sometimes be a vice reported at least a third of the children were suffering from malnutrition. That has not been a secret with South Korean children, many of them from families of Northern origin in the exchanges during the Korean War, tower over their kinsmen by as much as a foot by adolescence.

Ccarter has called for a lifting of the embargoes on food shipments by the U.S., the South Koreans, and the Japanese. Were he only to put as much energy in fostering — a fat chance — a system of supervision in the ultra-Stalinist state to see that relief food shipments did not simply go to North Korea’s 1.2 million under arms and its massive diversion of resources to attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear.

But talk of famine reminds one of a recent ridiculous — if as esoteric as many of the letters exchanges in the TLS tend to be — argument over one of the recent books on the so-called secret Chinese famines during the Great Leap Forward of 1958-61.

Mao’s fantasy economic policies led to the death of at least 50 million people. But the TLS exchange is by the self-promoting author

http://web.mac.com/dikotter/Dikotter/Home.html

and a critic who has charged he has not consulted the proper Chinese Communist repeat Chinese Communist sources.

In the first place, of course, the whole concept of the famine being secret is in the eye of the beholder, in this case poor scholarship [and that is giving them the benefit of the doubt]. As a Hong Kong friend says, “Yes, secret, except to three and a half million Chinese in Hong Kong trying desperately to get food-parcels to their starving relatives on The Mainland”.

What is even more ridiculous about Dikotter and his “critics” is the complete ignoring of the fact that a small but determined band of China hands were at the time giving  full vent to catastrophe. Father Ladeslaw Ladony, SJ, the editor and publisher of the unique China News Analysis, Miriam and Ivan London

http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/people/data/ivan_d__london.html,

Prof. Richard “Dixie” Walker

http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3704493,

and a few others.  [Dikotter has the temerity not to even list them in his bibliography.]  If their voices were not heard, it was because virtually the entire Academy band of Chinese “scholars”, with their Maoist predilections, led by John K. Fairbank of Harvard, were simply ignoring anything that did not fit their anti-anti-Communist religion. Most of the Maoistas who are still alive — some even heading prestigious institutions such as The Asia Society — have still not have their “Kronstadt” and repented publicly.

All of this to ask whether an oncoming North Korean famine will be reported in the MSM contemporaneously and in proportion to its calamity. Don’t count on it!

sws-05-06-11

Korea: the bomb ticks louder


Despite world attention focused on Iran’s emergence as a nuclear clad power, an equally if not more serious crisis swells on the Korean peninsular. There are hints North Korean, sheltered behind its Communist monarchy’s unprecedented secrecy, might implode.

For the moment, its neighbors and the U.S., have a vested interest in the status quo, however obnoxious the regime. South Korea and Japan both worry about a refugee tsunami if Kim Jong Il and his generals lose control. China fears the collapse of its principle ally, the eventual emergence of a powerful united Korea allied with the West. Even Russia, with its faltering grasp on its resource-rich but depopulating Asian expanses, would be weakened by a North Korean collapse.

But a confluence of trends inside North Korea is producing a crisis that may not be staved off. Granted such predictions have been made before – and proved wrong. And there is the history of Pyongyang’s survival in the mid-90s, when after calamitous drought, Kim’s father drove a population into famine killing at least two million people. Most of its 24 million still live below what the rest of the world considers subsistence.

The geopolitical skills of Pyongyang’s small ruling elite are not to be underestimated. Soviet, Nazi and Maoist tools of repression have been honed to brutalities unknown in the civilized world. Whole families, for example, are condemned to permanent imprisonment to snuff out dissidence. Pyongyang has largely defied the digital revolution, isolating its population from outside information.

One could argue the regime has had, albeit for humanitarian reasons, aid if not comfort from its opponents. For a decade, two South Korean presidents not only pursued accommodation with the North but discouraged criticism. The U.S. and Japan — and often corrupt UN agencies — in the service of charity and hope for change supplied a modicum of food and energy to keep the regime alive. China turned a blind eye to contraband with its own 2 million ethnic Koreans as well as extending massive food and energy aid.

The North Korea regime, in riposte, has devoted its manageable resources – including widespread overseas organized crime operations – to a two-pronged, at least partially successful, development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The basic conundrum which U.S. negotiators face [the Bush Administration before now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] is that the regime’s very existence depends on its weapons sales to pariah regimes such as Iran. Israel’s demolition of a clandestine North Korean nuclear facility in the eastern Syrian desert in 2007 was a recent example of  how North Korean threatens worldwide peace and stability.

Washington’s proffered “bargain” – that Pyongyang halt this traffic in return for massive development aid — faces the unstated Pyongyang”logic” that such a “liberalization” would unseat the tyranny. Even earlier efforts by Beijing to try to persuade Pyongyang to turn to “the China model” were quickly cast aside.

North Korea’s unique problem is the South Korean model sitting on its doorstep. There modernization, first under a military dictatorship, and then a democratic regime, has produced the world’s 20th largest economy with the world’s 14th highest purchasing power. Adoption by Pyongyang of a copy-cat development would inevitably destroy the the current regime.

But a stagnant society cannot endure indefinitely. A crux of issues has formed: Kim Jong Il suffered a heart attack last year. His dysfunctional family may not have produced an adequate heir. An attempt to snuff out a growing black market with a “currency reform” has ended, reportedly, with the execution of its vaunted bureaucratic author.

Now Seoul is gingerly handling an as yet unexplained disaster: the sinking with great loss of life of a South Korean warship in disputed waters. Preliminary evidence suggests a possible attack from rogue North Korean elements. The tragedy came during one of Pyongyang’s unique threats of all manner of destruction to the South Koreans and their American allies.

South Korea’s conservative Pres. Lee Myung Bak, while reiterating offers of food and energy, has turned his back on former efforts to stifle criticism. [Seoul was reluctant even to permit American intelligence access to VIP defectors.] A few North Koreans are tapping foreign media through South Korean non-government organizations.

As Kim dithers on a trip to see his Chinese friends [the first in15 years], Beijing announced a $10 billion aid program and offers to set up export promotion enclaves. That was seen as part of the price to get Kim’s representatives back to six-party talks. But it vitiates American and Japanese efforts to use economic pressure to bring the regime to real negotiations.

The truth is that neither the talks nor Chinese aid is likely to go far in solving the  fundamental problem for the regime – and its interlocutors. Pyongyang sits on its starving people without recourse for its survival except to continue to blackmail the rest of the world with its weapons of mass destruction potential – if, and until, the cracks widen and it collapses.

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